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TV Review: The Crown (Season 1)

A lush historical drama from the ever-expanding programming of Netflix Originals, The Crown in its first, ten-episode season covers the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II, England’s current and longest-reigning monarch. Sumptuous, captivating, and flawlessly presented, The Crown stars Claire Foy as the young Elizabeth Windsor, who is thrust into the limelight after the unexpected death of her father, King George VI (Jared Harris) in 1952. George himself was forced to take up the mantle after the abdication of his brother Edward VII (Alex Jennings). Elizabeth is aided and supported by nationally beloved Prime Minister Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) and a palace full of royal family members and staff members. Rules and traditions sit heavily on Elizabeth’s shoulders, however, and those closest to her, such as her headstrong husband Prince Philip Mountbatten (Matt Smith), present constant challenges to her position as head of the country as well as to her duties toward herself and her family. The rest of the cast includes Vanessa Kirby as Elizabeth’s bubbly younger sister, Princess Margaret; Ben Miles as close servant of the royal family and Margaret’s beau, Peter Townsend; Victoria Hamilton as the grieving Queen Mother; and Pip Torrens as Tommy Lascelles, Elizabeth’s efficient and never fazed private secretary.

First off, the writing of The Crown is fantastic. Although the show technically revolves around Queen Liz, each episode has its own focus on particular characters, events, and themes, telling a complete and unique story per hour as well as weaving a larger narrative over the course of the entire season. The show delves into Elizabeth’s position and her relationships to multiple men of influence in her life, namely her loving father and previous monarch, King George VI; her disgraced and exiled uncle, King Edward VII; the brash, powerful, and conservative Churchill; and other Cabinet members. The Queen is placed uniquely within the male-dominated world of politics where she must uphold and navigate the complexity of the British constitution (which, fun fact, does not exist as a single written document). Imperial duties, regular and gender politics, and the rise of media celebrity via television are among the many issues Elizabeth must handle with a rigid external decorum that masks great internal struggle.

The lead actors give exquisite performances in The Crown. Claire Foy is incredibly empathetic as the diminutive, unassuming, and reserved monarch. Elizabeth is quite opaque for the first few episodes as other characters take centre stage, but her struggles in maintaining a very public role with a long, heavy history and her own rather sad back story are slowly revealed, enlightening viewers to the early life of a familiar but somewhat inscrutable figure. Alongside the Queen as her long-suffering trophy husband and consort, Matt Smith alternately charms and irritates. Previously the prince of Denmark and Greece, Philip renounces his former title in order to marry Elizabeth and later loses his new house and name in allegiance to the crown. This causes him to bristle against having to constantly defer to his wife and queen. John Lithgow transforms himself completely into Churchill, despite having the wrong size, shape, and accent for the infamous English Bulldog. His role is of a man nearing the end of a magnificent career, clinging obstinately to a position he is slowly becoming too old and unfit for, yet always reminding everyone of his greatness by being the smartest and most well spoken in the room. Churchill is a study in contractions, at once wise, impressive, and heroic as well as stubborn, flawed, and difficult. Jared Harris has a smaller, but absolutely vital recurring role as George VI. As the meek king faces the uncertain future of his reign, he reacts in the most British way possible: burying it deep down so as not to bother anyone else with what is going on. Harris absolutely nails each scene he is given with remarkably restrained emotion, placing himself in league with Colin Firth’s Oscar-winning performance in The King’s Speech. Overall, a stupendously well done show.

Rating: 5 out of 5 coronation ceremonies

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